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Research at the Chair of History and Theory of the City


Our research interest is in the interdependency and interaction between the built environment and social processes in a historical perspective and in international contexts. Current research projects focus on transnational knowledge practices and processes of regulation in architecture and planning, urban megaprojects, urban informality and self-help construction, post-socialist urbanism and the current debate about socially engaged design and planning approaches.

Research projects

Urbanization and finance in developing countries: marketization, institutionalization and internationalization of housing microfinance in Mexico

Duration: 07/2018-06/2021

Funding: German Science Foundation (DFG)

Project team: María Luisa Escobar Hernández

The project explores changes in the relation between financial sector and urbanization in the context of Mexico as a developing country. It examines processes of marketization, institutionalization and internationalization of housing microfinance in Mexico. These processes currently result in expanded access to non-mortgage microloans for low-income households for purposes of renovation and remodeling of self-built homes. We ask how these processes evolve and what the potential effects are on self-organized building practices of low-income households. This results in a double focus on the institutions and mechanisms which link financial markets and the informal housing sector as well as on the everyday practices in which financial services are obtained and consumed by low-income households. The project will conduct a series of qualitative case studies of low-income communities located in the Mexico City Metropolitan Area and the coastal zone of the State of Quintana Roo. Against the background of international debates about financialization which a strong focus on US, UK and European cases, the project promises insights in two important ways: First, it potentially allows to combine and contrast theoretical considerations with empirical data from a geographical, economic and cultural context that has until now been largely neglected in the international literature on financialization and the production of urban built environment. Second, it potentially contributes to debates inspired by post-colonial approaches to urban and planning theory about whether and how concepts derived from European and US experiences can serve in analyzing Latin America.

Duration: 06/2017-11/2020

Funding: Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg, Landesforschungsförderung

Project Partners:
Prof. Dr. Gernot Grabher, Urban and Regional Economics, HCU (Spokesperson)
Dr. Joachim Thiel, Urban and Regional Economics, HCU (Coordinator)
Prof. Dr. Monika Grubbauer, Arbeitsgebiet Geschichte und Theorie der Stadt, HCU
Prof. Dr. Annette Bögle, Structural Analysis and Design, HCU
Prof. Dr. Cornelius Herstatt, Institute for Technology and Innovation Management, TU Hamburg

Project team: Venetsiya Dimitrova

At least at first glance, the recent history of mega-projects has largely been written as a record of disasters. And yet, a second glance reveals another dimension of large-scale construction ventures: The Eiffel Tower, Sidney Opera House, Golden Gate Bridge, to name just a few, have turned into icons and have set historical benchmarks in terms of construction techniques and technology, organizational processes as well as architectural design. Based on six proto-typical case-studies, this research project explicitly focuses on this so far largely disregarded facet of large construction projects. The research team combines the perspectives of architecture, structural engineering, management research and urban economics, and seeks to answer the question of how innovations within the entire construction value chain originate and are disseminated across the involved industries. The interdisciplinary approach promises insights into organizational and technical interdependencies of innovation processes unattainable through traditional mono-disciplinary research. The subproject realized by the Chair of History and Theory of the City will examine the specific role of architectural and engineering firms in the development of innovative design solutions.

Completed research projects

Global markets / local shifts: Urban restructuring through municipal debt in Mexico City and Johannesburg

Duration: 05/2019-02/2020

Funding: DAAD-P.R.I.M.E (BMBF/Marie-Curie Actions of the European Commission)

Project Partners: Dr. Verónica Crossa, El Colegio de México (Mexico City), Prof. Dr. Patrick Bond, Wits University (Johannesburg)

Project team: Dr. Hanna Hilbrandt

This project examines the local effects of financial globalization in cities of the global South. Although financial actors have long considered cities in poor and middle-income countries too risky for capital investment, urgent demands for sustainable growth, the paucity of local revenue streams and supportive development policies are currently moving these cities into the spotlight of capital flows. What happens once these investments hit the ground?

In answering this question, this project compares the adoption of Green Municipal Bonds (GMBs), debt instruments that allow cities to raise capital for sustainable urban projects, in Mexico City and Johannesburg. Pioneers in their implementation, both cities have recently financed numerous sustainable projects through GMBs, the local effects of which remain to be understood. Based on interview data and spatial analyses, I pursue two lines of investigation: First, I consider the transformation of urban governance and planning with regard to changes in financial, spatial and fiscal regulation that were required for the cities to issue GMBs. Second, I consider the socio-spatial effects of these developments resulting from the spatial allocation of resources, the types of projects that are financed, the involvement of local publics in decision-making processes as well as the winners and looser in these processes.

Duration: 2017/2018

Funding: HCU seed grant

Project Partners:

Prof. Dr. Monika Grubbauer, Arbeitsgebiet Geschichte und Theorie der Stadt, HCU (Sprecherin)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Kerstin Lesny, Arbeitsgebiet Geotechnik, HCU
Prof. Irene Peters, Ph.D., Arbeitsgebiet Infrastrukturplanung und Stadttechnik, HCU
Prof. Dr. Martin Wickel, Arbeitsgebiet Recht und Verwaltung, HCU

Project team: Dr. Hanna Hilbrandt

The joint research project examines the formation and the performativity of norms and standards in architecture, planning and construction and combines social science, engineering and law perspectives. Norms and standards have high relevance for building cultures and urban development. They have gained in importance through new forms of transnational and private regulation and new challenges related to resource efficiency and sustainability in the production of the built environment. The project to be developed examines how norms and standards in architecture, planning and construction are currently produced, legitimated, enforced and applied and in what ways the interlocking of public and private regulation on multiple scales in inter- and transnational contexts influences the processes of codification and standardization. The project is developed jointly by several research areas at HCU.

Building urban informality: marketization and shifting commodity chains in the production of informal settlements

Duration: 08/2014-07/2015

Funding: DAAD

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Monika Grubbauer

The project examined ways in which urban informality in developing countries is connected to and interacts with the 'formal city' with a focus on informal settlements and self-organized building practices in Mexico City. It sought to analyse the interdependencies of building and maintainance practices of self-built homes in colonias populares and the formal construction sector by scrutinizing flows of material and immaterial goods (money, services and tangible goods). The background for this analysis is provided by recent processes of internationalization, marketization and financialization in construction and retailing in Mexico. The project included a case study of a housing upgrading program based on assisted self-help housing schemes in the area of Ecatepec drawing on qualitative interviews and ethnographic data, complemented by a review of housing and urban development policies in Mexico.

Projektpartner/Project partners: Dr. Javier Delgado, Institut für Geographie, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) Elena Solis, Centro de Apoyo Mejoremos, Mexico City

PhD Projects

Eva Kuschinski, HCU Hamburg (first supervisor) contact

Looking at the Hamburg housing market from the perspektive of a women's shelter. A feminist reading of the current housing question

The dissertation project researches access to housing for residents of Hamburg women's shelters in the context of (local) housing and social policy and the tight housing market in Hamburg.


Venetsiya Dimitrova, HCU Hamburg (first supervisor) contact

Midlevel Professionaly as "Knowledge Actors": Impact on Knowledge Mobility and the Internationalization of Professional Activities

The doctoral project seeks to contribute to the research on knowledge mobility and enhance the understanding of the precise ways in which global architectural firms and large firms in the building sector operate and manage knowledge. This will be achieved by exploring empirically the knowledge practices of midlevel professionals, whose role and influence have been largely neglecte. By looking into their skills, strategies and modes of expertise, as well as into their working and employment conditions, the dissertation will reveal these professionals as crucial for the generation, implementation and dissemination of design and planning ideas, as well as for the functioning and growing dominance of large architectural and full-service firms. These insights will help enhance the understanding of the messy and contested processes that make up the production of the built and urban environment.

Duration: since 2018



Halvor Weider Ellefsen, The Oslo School of Architecture and Design, 2017 (Evaluation committee and first opponent)
Urban Environments of the Entrepreneurial City. From Aker Brygge to Tjuvholmen

Tina Enders, TU Berlin, 2017 (Second reviewer)
Behagliche Monumentalität in Frankfurt. Architektur als Produkt städtischer Relevanzen

Joanna Kusiak, TU Darmstadt, 2016 (Third reviewer)Chaos Warsaw: A Cognitive Mapping of the City